Africa News blog
African business, politics and lifestyle
I was left somewhat traumatised after going to see a screening of a controversial new Hollywood-backed short released this week, aimed at highlighting the link between minerals mined for British mobile phones and the use of rape and murder as weapons of war in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The highly graphic campaign video – appropriately called Unwatchable – starts with a little English girl picking flowers in the garden of her family’s multi-million pound mansion in a picturesque Cotswolds village.
This tranquil scene is shattered in an instant when armed men descend on the house, gang-rape her sister on the kitchen table and then murder her parents. It ends five minutes later with the girl running for her life.
The simple answer to the question of how many people died in Congo’s civil war is “too many”.
Trying to get a realistic figure is fraught with difficulties and a new report suggests that a widely used estimate of 5.4 million dead – potentially making Congo the deadliest conflict since World War Two – is hugely inaccurate and that the loss of life may be less than half that.
For days now Britons have been regaled with newspaper stories detailing the dubious expense claims of their Members of Parliament.
The Honourable Members, it seems, have been charging for everything from a few thousand pounds for clearing a moat to a few pence for a new bath plug. An outraged nation has risen almost as one to denounce its greedy lawmakers.
A multinational offensive aimed at wiping out Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels – and planned and equipped with U.S. support during the dying days of the Bush administration - has scattered fighters who have unleashed a wave of massacres on Congolese villages.
LRA fighters have killed nearly 900 people in reprisal attacks in northeast Congo since Ugandan troops, together with Sudanese and Congolese soldiers, launched a military operation in December against fugitive rebel leader Joseph Kony, whose two-decade insurgency has killed tens of thousands of people and uprooted 2 million. (See Alertnet briefing for more)
Reuters reported on the U.S. involvement in December. The New York Times said recently that the Pentagon’s new Africa Command (Africom) had contributed intelligence, advice and $1 million in fuel. The Washington Post argues the operation has been so unsuccessful it amounts to little more than “throwing a rock at a hive of bees”.
Foreign Policy magazine said that the LRA, who failed to sign a planned peace deal in April, would be hard to stamp out and that the operation was putting the Pentagon’s reputation at risk.
There are sceptical voices in the blogosphere too.
“One of the first publicly acknowledged Africom operations has turned into a general debacle, resulting in the death of nearly a thousand civilians and sending untold numbers of children into sex slavery and military servitude,” Dave Donelson says on his Heart of Diamonds blog.
Writing in Uganda’s Monitor, Grace Matsiko said the offensive was proving a real test for officers of Uganda’s army (UPDF).
“Uganda should brace itself for a protracted war, should Kony and his top lieutenants continue to evade the UPDF dragnet,” the journalist wrote.
Meanwhile, aid agency MSF has accused the United Nations force in Congo, the world’s biggest, of failing to protect civilians from Ugandan rebel attacks – accusations the world body has rejected as totally unfounded. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has also accused U.N. peacekeepers of inactivity and of living alongside the LRA for three years and doing nothing about the guerrillas.
While expressing his horror at the what he called ‘catastrophic’ consequences for civilians from the offensive, U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes has said the joint force still needs to see the operation through.
Should the offensive continue or is it time to halt it? If so, what should be done about the rebels? How big an impact should the conduct of this operation have for the U.S. Africa Command’s future role?
Look down the list of the cases the International Criminal Court is pursuing – Congo, Central African Republic, Darfur, Uganda – and it doesn’t take long to spot the connection.
Of the dozen arrest warrants the court has issued, all have been against African rebels or officials. On Monday, the court begins its first trial - of Thomas Lubanga, accused of recruiting child soldiers to wage a gruesome ethnic war in northeastern Congo. Earlier this month, former Congolese rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba was in court for a decision on whether to confirm charges of ordering mass rape to terrorise civilians in the Central African Republic.
Rwanda sent hundreds of its soldiers into eastern Congo on Tuesday in what the neighbours have described as a joint operation against Hutu rebels who have been at the heart of 15 years of conflict. Details are still somewhat sketchy, with Rwanda saying its soldiers are under Congolese command but Kinshasa saying Kigali’s men have come as observers.
Evidence on the ground suggests something more serious. United Nations peacekeepers and diplomats have said up to 2,000 Rwandan soldiers crossed into Congo. A Reuters reporter saw hundreds of heavily armed troops wearing Rwandan flag patches moving into Congo north of Goma, the capital of North Kivu province. The world’s largest U.N. peacekeeping mission is, for now, being kept out of the loop.
from Photographers Blog:
On Jan. 14 Reuters hosted a live video Q&A with our renowned photographer Finbarr O’Reilly about his experiences in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo. Finbarr addressed what drew him to Africa and the most difficult aspects of being a photographer in a war zone.
Finbarr is still available to answer questions, submit them in the comments section below or send a Twitter message with the hash tag "#finbarr" .
from The Great Debate:
Neil Campbell, EU Advocacy Manager of the International Crisis Group, recently returned from eastern Congo. Any views expressed are his own.
“Unacceptable and murderous.” Those were the words French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner chose to describe the situation in north eastern Congo at a press conference after October’s monthly meeting of EU foreign ministers. Sadly, Congo was not even on the agenda of that meeting.
Driving from Gulu town in northern Uganda to Kitgum, you’re struck by how normal it all seems now. People are walking up and down the main dirt road that connects the two towns, bicycles dodge potholes and passing cars with precision, and the occasional bus plows through, leaving billows of dust in tow. But before Uganda and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) signed a ceasefire in August 2006, the high bush grass and sparsely populated villages made good cover for ambushes, and easy access for rebels abducting new recruits. This road, now full of life, used to be almost empty, people had moved furtively and quickly from one place to another, always watchful, fearful of running into rebels, in a war that has claimed thousands of lives.
But more than twenty years since LRA leader Joseph Kony began his rebellion, northern Uganda is seeing the first effects of peace; both good and bad. Agriculture output is rising as people return to the fields — the north could become Uganda’s bread basket. At the height of the war, some 2 million people were forced from their homes. Now, the majority have returned to their villages or to transition areas. But, it hasn’t all been easy. In fact, many new problems are emerging. An outbreak of highly-infectious Hepatitis E has killed more than 100 people so far. Many northerners are returning to villages, which have rotted during the long course of the war. Aid groups say conditions were often better in camps than in home villages. Many residents are returning to areas with little access to clean water or good sanitation. And this breeds more disease and more suffering.